So, uh, I’ve got a question about world building in PoCs… How exactly DID Native Americans worship their gods? I’ve looked at various sources but I’m afraid that I’ll get it wrong…I’m mostly interested in the plains people and the ones who lived in more forested areas along with their differences…I don’t wanna offend others or get their culture wrong when I personally hate it when it happens to me.






Native Religions and Deity Worship

That is private, personal, highly secret information.

Native religions are appropriated almost every time they let one piece of information slip to outsiders. As a result of being burned over and over and over again, tribes have become even more closed than they were previously.

Not only does it vary by tribe (we had no overreaching religion, so even your limitation of “plains” is far too general to even begin answering), it can vary by family, and it can vary right down to the individual.

Do not ask how we worship. We, collectively, have decided not to open up our worship, because as soon as outsiders are introduced, they steal. They write about things we tell them not to write about. They push beyond our clearly set boundaries.

On top of it, our relationships with our deities are highly personal. You will get as many answers as there are Native individuals.

If you want to show worship in your novels, skim over the barest of details that we have chosen to make public. Ask an individual tribe “what rituals are you comfortable being written about?” Only write about what they are comfortable being written. Let them know how far you plan on spreading the story, as their comfort level might change how large the audience is (ie- “I’m showing my group of friends” vs “I’m going to publish this”)

Do not ask how we worship.

That is not for you to know.

~ Mod Lesya

In relation to this question, what are your thoughts on books such as Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear’s First North Americans series (People of the Wolf, etc.) Since the series tends to generalize in terms of religion (it covers tens of thousands of years and yet every featured tribe has a more-or-less similar belief system) do you think this series should be considered fantasy or alternate history as opposed to reconstructed history in terms of its portrayal of Native peoples?

I ask because I used to consider this a good model for writing about Native peoples (since both writers are archeologists and well versed in history), but now I’m not so sure.

It depends on a few things. Anthropologists’ accounts and archeologists’ accounts are often more credible, but they’re also not guaranteed to be safe. In fact, they can provide some of the worst violations of privacy for a tribe, or be some of the most colonialist-imposing fields out there. An important note is the archeology is a subset of anthropology, so I’m going to be talking about anthropology as a whole.

Also, I haven’t read the books and am going off the wikipedia summary.

My biggest question is: were the tribes populating the area actually asked for detailed oral histories, or was everything pieced together and the data sampled/ based on trends? A lack of oral history is a huge red flag since Indigenous oral histories around the world are exceptionally accurate. Sampling and trend-based data is another, since it really opens up a can of worms for making a whole bunch of educated assumptions instead of asking about details.

From a quick glance it seems that the data was heavily sampled based on colonizer views from purely archeological data without any oral history in sight, which… makes me question the validity. Because it seems to be our history without us.

I also am tilting my head at the “mystic” terms used, because they are very university-approved-speak. One of anthropology’s dirty little secrets is it’ll take one group’s practices and apply the name to all other groups’ practices because of superficial similarities— shaman, for example, is a Northeast Asian word, likely Tungusic, that described Northeast Asian practices. It has now spread across most if not all Indigenous practices, and sometimes doesn’t reflect accurately. Totem was another word, taken from Ojibwe and spread across anything that involved animal associations.

My impression of the books is basically a bunch of academics trying to make sense of Indigenous peoples based off fossil records, which is actually a huge problem in academia. Instead of treating our oral histories as valid, instead of asking us how our cultures have evolved over time, they’re treating us like we’re already dead and gone. Or that we can’t have any idea where we came from. 

Another thing to keep in mind for anthropological records: sometimes they spread out secret rituals far wider than we ever intended. A Quebec Cree person once showed an image of a sacred Cree ritual, and prefaced it with “I am only showing you this because the person who took the image has already violated this man.” The image was supposed to only go to a small group. It ended up internationally published. That image is why I put in a note in the original ask that you need to say how far the story will be spread before asking about comfort levels. Not saying that happened with these books, but I am saying it does happen.

Calling these books “alternate history” discredits them, but “reconstructed history” is inaccurate as well— from the looks of things, they’re not so much alternate history as they are hollow reconstructed history, because it’s taken based on what colonizers know instead of asking us. It’s not Native American history in the purest sense. It’s a colonizer’s view of our history.

This is why I am very much in love with America Unearthed. Oral history is treated as valid, and whenever possible he either talks to the tribe directly, or makes note of their oral history. He’s done it for a possible Hawai’in contact with Mexico, the Aztecs coming from the Mississippian region, and a whole bunch of other groups. 

But in general I distrust anything that is our history without us. We’re more than fossil records. Our history doesn’t have to be “reconstructed” in all cases. We know where we came from the vast majority of the time. If you want to know, just ask.

~ Mod Lesya

-Raises hand-
If I may add, something else important to note is that there are tribes who will absolutely not discuss this type of thing through technological means. This means anything from a computer to a phone. I don’t know how far this spreads, but at least among the local tribes in my region, talking about culturally sensitive information, practices, the ‘mystic stuff’ through technological means is absolutely not done. I’ve been chastised by more than one elder for even alluding to something via text message. So if you’re finding your information online, be critical.

Yeah, these sorts of restrictions are in place among various tribes. They can also include no photography, no publishing, or other distribution limits. 

Many, many, many Natives have pointed out (across various posts) that there’s a far more solid sense of ownership of stories and legends among tribes, so you can’t even distribute something if you were told it unless you have permission to tell it secondhand.

You should be critical of anything found online because of the aforementioned appropriation by new age movements I alluded to in the first post. This is why you should go directly to the tribe in question. 

But you should also know how to ask.

~ Mod Lesya

About C.A. Jacobs

Just another crazy person, masquerading as a writer.
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